Chhetri: 'We have to keep our head down and keep improving'

India went on a 13-game unbeaten run between June 2016 and March 2018 as it advanced to what will be its fourth AFC Asian Cup appearance.

Sunil Chhetri will lead India at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates.   -  AFP

Sunil Chhetri says India has improved dramatically since the 2011 AFC Asian Cup as he prepares to lead the country for the 2019 edition in the United Arab Emirates in January.

In 2011, India was eliminated in the group stage after suffering heavy defeats to Australia, Bahrain and Korea Republic. India didn't qualify for the 2015  edition, but the team has been on an upswing since then. India went on a 13-game unbeaten run between June 2016 and March 2018 as it advanced to what will be its fourth AFC Asian Cup appearance.

“[Back then] we had never been on such a big stage and it didn’t help to face Australia, Korea and Bahrain; we gave our best but I think we were a bit overwhelmed,” Chhetri told the-afc.com.

“If we compare ourselves with the other Asian countries then we fall short, but if we compare with what we were 15 years back then I think we have made huge strides.

“But because we’re chasing the bigger teams, we can’t be happy or satisfied, we have to keep our heads down and keep improving.”

The forward scored four goals in the third round of qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup, including crucial winners in Myanmar and in home to Kyrgyz Republic on Matchdays One and Two as India set the pace before eventually securing qualification with a game to spare.

India went on to win the 2018 Intercontinental Cup after a brace from Chhetri helped the team register a 2-0 victory over Kenya.

Chhetri's next task will be to lead his country in the United Arab Emirates next year, when it will face the host, Thailand and Bahrain.

“It’s an honour and a privilege to captain my country; I’ve been playing for my country for the past 12 years and it’s been brilliant,” added Chhetri.

“We are about to play the Asian Cup and it’s a huge responsibility that I’m really looking forward to. Now, personally, I think I’ll be calmer because I think I’m more mature. I’ve experienced the tournament and I can help my juniors go over there and stay calm.

“We have to work hard to make sure qualifying for the Asian Cup becomes normal for us and we don’t feel how we did in 2011.”